A dollar bill, as we all know too well, is a fleeting thing. Not just because it leaves our hands so much more easily than it returns but because, as it changes hands, it wears out within about three years, and often sooner. A coin's life span, by contrast, averages 30 years. That's why several members of Congress are suggesting phasing out the dollar bill entirely and replacing it with a coin. The production savings could add up to $5.5 billion over those three decades, proponents say.
Coins are bulkier, but at least vending machines wouldn't spit them back out at us for having untidy corners or a crease here or there.
But if Congress wants to save money on money, there's no reason to stop at the dollar bill. The U.S. Treasury has been nickel-and-dimed for years on the production of nickels and, well, pennies, both of which cost more to produce than they're worth. The cost of a penny is volatile because it depends on the metals market — pennies are made of copper-plated zinc — but figures for 2010 put the price of producing 1 cent at close to 2 cents, meaning that the government loses a cent for every one it makes. With 7 billion pennies manufactured per year, that's almost $70 million lost annually.